Kosovo Censorship and "The Book of Milutin"

Beograd_240311_Podkast_Muharem Bazdulj
Source: Kosovo Online

Written for Kosovo online by Muharem Bazdulj

In the mid-1980s, Danko Popovic (1928 - 2009) published the short novel "The Book of Milutin", which sold more than half a million copies over the next forty years. The aura of that novel spilled over into the theater play, in which Nenad Jezdic magnificently plays the title role. More tickets have been requested for the play in Belgrade for months, and our people in Kosovo and Metohija will not be able to see it because the theater crew is prohibited from entering the part of Serbian territory controlled by the regime in Pristina under the current rule of Albin Kurti.

The first word of the title of this text consciously targets the memory potential of the older generation of its readers. In the eighties of the last century, when the first edition of Danko Popovic's short novel "The Book of Milutin" was published, the adjective "Kosovo" was convenient for a semi-provocative play with words because in theory it could target both the Serbian southern autonomous province and the Counterintelligence Service (KOS for short). Kosovo censorship can, therefore, refer to censorship related to Kosmet and to censorship carried out by the authorities in Pristina, but also to censorship directed by the famous KOS.

When it comes to the latest case of "Kosovo censorship", i.e. when it comes to the ban on the actor Nenad Jezdic to enter the territory controlled by the Pristina authorities, and there, in areas where there are still Serbs, to play the monodrama "The Book of Milutin" based on Popovic’s novel of the same name, there is no dispute about the meaning of the possessive adjective. What the dispute can and should be about are the reasons why Kurti's government "trains rigor" in this way and on this example.

About forty years ago, when "The Book of Milutin" was published, it was met with great popularity among readers and strong skepticism among the political caste. In a sense, the novel had great timing. The "artillery preparation" of his reception was made by Dobrica Cosic's books and theater plays based on them. It is therefore not surprising that Popovic, according to the testimonies of his contemporaries, longed for a theatrical adaptation of his book. It is claimed that the idea that was especially close to him was to have the play appear in the Zvezdra Theater, and to have Danilo Bata Stojkovic play the main role.

Popovic did not wait for the Zvezdara Theater to stage his novel on the famous "boards that mean life", but the popularity of the play is perhaps even greater than the expectations he could have had. The director-actor tandem: Egon Savin and Nenad Jezdic played, obviously, a miraculous double pass. For months and years, tickets for several future games have been sold literally in an hour. With such popularity, it is easiest for the Zvezdara Theater to play the play as often as possible on the home stage, but they still wanted to play the play (also) in Kosovo, so they encountered closed doors.

The question arises as to what motive this play was banned. She is by no means "anti-Albanian" in her text. Also, the play was planned to be performed in Serbian areas, so it is not difficult to conclude that out of pure malice the hosting of a play that the people want to see there is prohibited.

The authorities in Pristina like to refer to reciprocity. There is no case that an Albanian theater from Kosovo was banned from visiting Serbia, even when they were visiting with plays that are politically extremely provocative for the Serbian public. Perhaps the most egregious example is the play "Handke Project" by the author Jeton Neziraj and director Blerta Neziraj, which was performed less than two years ago, on June 9th and 10th, in Belgrade's BITEF theater. Although the interest in the play was almost negligible, which could be concluded from the small number of the audience, it is unlikely that the organizers were disappointed. Apparently, their goal was to include Belgrade in the "European tour" purely to make the whole thing seem more "inclusive". If some incident could be directed, it wouldn't hurt, but it's better not to risk it so that things don't get out of control. Nobody on the administrative demarcation line caused any problems to the Albanian artists from Kosovo and they played the show in the most normal way in the prestigious building of the state theater.

There was nothing political about the idea of "The Book of Milutin" being performed in Kosovo's areas where Serbs still live. Her ban, on the other hand, is pure politics. What is important is that the Belgrade side does not agree to the imposition of bad reciprocity, that is, that this side eventually responds to Pristina in a similar way. Art is art and there should be no limits to art. Censorship, after all, is always a symptom of fear.